Jul 312007

There is a review of Amity Shlaes new book, “The Forgotten Man : a new history of the Great Depression” in the July 30 issue of The Weekly Standard. You have to be a paid subscriber to read the whole article, but here’s the link anyway.

The reviewer, Stephen Schwartz, says in one place: “While the outcome of the New Deal was perceived as beneficial, and was unaccompanied by repression, it has long been observed that the emergence of the American social welfare state had elements in common with Mussolini’s fascism, Hitler’s state-directed economic revival, and Stalinist compulsory agrarian collectivization and central planning.”

Unaccompanied by repression? Well, it certainly didn’t have repression on the scale of those other examples listed, but something was in the air at the time, world-wide. It wasn’t just Stalin who was doing central planning that resulted in dislocations of populations.

Last year when on a bike tour that passed through one of the TVA projects of the 1930s, I was surprised to learn of the level of resentment that still exists over the human dislocations undertaken in that not-so-successful experiment in central planning. And then I learned there is a literature about it, too.

I blogged about it here: Alabama trip, Day 4, Wednesday March 29, the Trace — Part 1.

I quote here about one of my discoveries on Jstor:

Another is this: TVA and the Dispossessed: The Resettlement of Population in the Norris Dam Area. By Michael J. McDonald; John Muldowny

The AHA reviewer says this: “Using oral-history techniques as well as a vast array of documentary evidence and statistics, Michael J McDonald andJohn Muldowny have skillfully and judiciously analyzed these failures. They conclude that even though the numerous long-run benefits can be cited legitimately as a result of TVA operations, there should nevertheless have been a more active and aggressive planning program…[But, G]iven the circumstances described by the authors, it is extremely difficult to imagine how the adverse impact of relocation on the people of the Norris Basin could have been significantly minimized.”

It sounds as though Amity Shlaes didn’t get into that aspect of the New Deal.

And why is it that these trends seem to cross national borders? This is one reason why it’s so worrisome to see Vladimir Putin and Hugo Chavez eliminating the free presses in their countries. Trends like that have a way of leaking out over the entire world. In our country we already have McCain-Feingold and the recent attempts to reinstate the so-called Fairness Doctrine. What more is coming?

Jul 202007

I happened across this one via History News Network:

C. Douglas Lummis: Ruth Benedict’s Obituary for Japanese Culture

Back in the 80s our liberal Congressman, Howard Wolpe, wrote a column for the local paper in which he told about a visit to Japanese factories, how the Japanese workers would do calisthenics together, and how could we as Americans compete with a culture in which people were like that. I presume the implication was that our industries needed the intervention of the state like in Japan. It was a common topic at the time. I wrote a letter to the editor blasting him for treating the Japanese as mindless automatons. I may have said something about how we shouldn’t stereotype others like that.

I was right, but I really had no idea. My wife and I have recently started enjoying Japanese movies together. Ikuru made quite an impression on both of us and taught us that we have a lot to learn. We don’t know what all we have to learn, but it is fascinating, keeping in mind of course that it’s probably as dangerous to learn about Japan from Japanese movies as it is to learn about the U.S. from American movies. Be that as it may, we are learning about things and people we hadn’t known much about before, and much of what we had known was wrong.

It was somewhat in that spirit that I found this Douglas Lummis article to be fascinating.
Here’s a section I found interesting:

Culture patterns then carry a double meaning. When the culture is dead, its pattern has the same beauty Benedict found in the faces of dead people – the aesthetic closure of something reconciled and finished. But for the living, the patterns are a kind of death-in-life, an oppressive, imprisoning force. If the living do not struggle to liberate themselves from them they will never be fully alive.

I sometimes get to wondering why on my bike rides I’m so fascinated with stopping to take photos of dead trees, rusted out bridges, rotted fenceposts, and abandoned farmsteads. One reason of course is that I like an excuse to take a break. Another is that dead things don’t usually mind being photographed. But do I also share an aesthetic with Benedict? I have no idea, nor am I sure how to think about it or whether it’s even worth thinking about.

It’s an interesting article, just the same.

Jul 192007

Good call by Bret Stephens of the WSJ in his article, For the Sake of One Man.

It’s about the fuss Britain is making (for which it deserves our thanks and praise) over the murder of Alexander Litvinenko:

What matters, rather, is nicely captured in a remark by Russian foreign ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin regarding Britain’s decision to expel the four diplomats. “I don’t understand the position of the British government,” Mr. Kamynin said. “It is prepared to sacrifice our relations in trade and education for the sake of one man.”

That’s a telling remark, both in its substance and in the apparent insouciance with which it was made: The whole architecture of liberal democracy is designed primarily “for the sake of one man.” Not only does Mr. Kamynin seem unaware of it, he seems to think we are unaware of it. Perhaps the indulgence which the West has extended to Mr. Putin’s regime over the past seven years gives him a reason to think so.

And I would say that not only are we somewhat responsible for creating an atmosphere in which Vlad Putin feels he can get away with his repression of the media, but it works the other way around, too. The more he can get away with, the more it creates a comfort zone for those in the U.S. who want to use the Fairness Doctrine or hate crime laws to quell dissidents’ voices.

Jul 172007

The Grand Rapids Press is promoting a power-grab by the state of Michigan. Reforming townships deserves debate, it says. That’s some debate, if it’s going to use the term “reform” to describe a transfer of township functions to the state. It should really be thought of as disempowering people in exchange for governmental corruption.

The Press says, speaking of those who would object to this hostile takeover, “Fear of lost of control and access are understandable…” I agree that it’s understandable, but the Press either doesn’t understand it, or it does and it doesn’t want to help its readers understand. Or maybe it has forgotten about such concepts as government by the people.

It goes on to say, “… but the need to shrink government should be just as important.” I don’t know who they are trying to fool, but taking government out of the hands of the people and centralizing it in a more powerful entity has never yet in the history of the universe been a way to shrink government.

Think of it this way. Should we remove all the smaller retail outlets in the country except for Wal-Mart, and let that company take over their functions? It would certainly reduce the duplication and redundancy. Is that going to make the retail industry more efficient for us consumers? I think we know the answer.

So if monopolies are bad in the private sector, where individual persons can still vote with their pocketbooks, what makes them so wonderful in the public sector, where people cannot exercise that type of control?

Added title, 23-Jul-2007

Jul 142007

The space in newspapers, even the Wall Street Journal editorial page, is usually reserved for articles in which professional journalists and columnists can look down their noses at bloggers. Here’s one that’s different, though. It’s an article titled Redefining Journalism, by Scott Gant.

Some excerpts:

…Members of the House and Senate have introduced identical versions of the “Free Flow of Information Act of 2007” … This legislation would enact a statutory “shield law” protecting journalists from having to divulge certain information…Some of the challenges facing earlier legislation stemmed from disagreement about who should be covered….To qualify as a journalist, the organization must have the “processing and researching of news or information intended for dissemination to the public” as one of its “regular functions.” This constricted conception of who qualifies as a journalist is employed in many state shield laws. The Free Flow of Information Act of 2007, however, adopts a dramatically broader view of journalism and journalists….The sponsors of this legislation have appropriately resisted calls to regard journalism as something carried out only by employees of established news organizations…As journalism returns to its status as an activity rather than a profession….

That last phrase is helpful: journalism as an activity rather than a profession.

There is a reason why government should not be carving out special privileges and exemptions for certain people — especially when those people are partisan agents of the government itself who tend to treat all affairs as an issue of government vs the people. And carving out special privileges for government people tends to foster this unhealthy mentality of government vs the people.

I’m thinking of the corrosive effect of cop-killer laws, or special legal protections for judges, or special income-tax-exemptions for university graduate students, or special protections for journalists. These people should be working to provide justice for everyone, not just the privileged few. And they will be more motivated to do that when they have to eat the same dog food as everyone else.

Now some may question why I’m thinking of journalists as government partisans. Don’t journalists hate the Bush administration, for example? Well, yes, they do, but that’s because they and the government establishment view the Bush administration as an imposter, not as one of them. Note how when Clinton was elected, journalists were whooping it up along with Democrats who were preparing to replace Bush partisans with their own. Now when Bush-2 does the same thing, it’s treated by these same people as an abuse of power.

And why am I lumping journalists in with the government establishment? It’s mostly because the path to becoming a professional journalist is through university schools of journalism, which seem to suffer an advanced case of the disease that is destroying what we used to value in academia. As far as journalism schools are concerned, I say this as an observer from a distance. But as a closer observer of academia as a whole, I note that while there is still is some room for diversity of thought, it is becoming rarer. Ever since sputnik, universities have more and more been becoming agents of the government with less and less tolerance for intellectual diversity and dissenting views that are uncongenial to the government establishment. See, for example, the type of opinion that was ruled out of bounds for posting on an office door at Marquette university, in my blog entry Academic Intolerance.

Even if I am wrong about how journalists get to be the way they are, any special protections ought to be made (as Scott Gant puts it) for the activity of journalism, and not for the profession.

Jul 062007

MoveOn.org is having an awful lot of trouble moving on:

Petition: Stop Executive Overreach

You’ve probably seen the news that President Bush let Scooter Libby, the one man who was convicted for the lies around the Iraq war, go free.

The obstruction of justice doesn’t stop there. The Senate recently subpoenaed documents from the Vice President’s office around the illegal wiretapping program and so far he has not complied. It’s clear this administration thinks it’s above the law.

It makes one wonder how they got that name, anyway.

Jul 052007

Hillary Clinton on Bush’s commutation of Scooter Libby’s sentence:

Today’s decision is yet another example that this administration simply considers itself above the law. This case arose from the administration’s politicization of national security intelligence and its efforts to punish those who spoke out against its policies… This commutation sends the clear signal that in this administration, cronyism and ideology trump competence and justice.

Yet is there a single news reporter who asked her how this statement would be applied to Sandy Berger if she is elected president?

(Thanks to Michael Reagan and his column for reminding us about Sandy Berger. No thanks to the main stream media, though.)

Jul 042007

Paul Greenberg writes:

I’m all for the wonderful mosaic of cultures in this country – social, religious, linguistic, culinary and every other kind in this country of countries. Each contributes something to the way we all see things, think about things. We learn from each other. But here there is room for only one, indivisible, unhyphenated civic culture. A civic and civil culture that gives us a common tongue to argue in, and common ground to stand on.

Note that having English as the one official language of this country, the language used for government work, would be quite compatible with our being more of a multi-lingual society. It would be quite compatible with kids learning more languages in school, and perhaps ought to be accompanied by such if it were ever to be made official policy. It’s no threat to our having a multitude of cultures and languages — unless all aspects of our cultures and private lives become government business. If that’s the case, then government is too big.

This was in Paul Greenberg’s recent article on immigration reform : Me, Ma, and Ben Franklin. So was Greenberg for the recent immigration bill or against it? He explains in the introductory paragraph to the article in which the above quote appeared.

I didn’t much like the immigration bill that just stalled in the U.S. Senate. In fact, I disliked it. Intensely. And I was for it. You can imagine how the folks who were against it felt about the bill.